The move to an emphasis on the study of evolutionary science has been one of the greatest paradigm shifts to take place in the last two centuries. Charles Darwin has been its poster boy, the most visibly iconic representative of concepts such as "the struggle for survival", "survival of the fittest", and so on. What is sometimes less focused on, however, is the nonscientific aspect of evolutionary theory. Indeed, in nineteenth century Europe, there were many social and political agendas wrapped up in the support of one scientific thesis or another. The Oxford or Cambridge educated gentleman of the upper crust was more likely to endorse a scientific postulate which fit into his world view than a theory which was more accessible to working class or socialist interests.

While we've seen the important role played by Charles Darwin in the actual science, two of his precursors are more appropriate to examine within the scope of this essay. Thomas Robert Malthus, the well known English political economist, and Jean Baptiste Lamarck, the French evolution theorist, were held in high esteem by upper class conservative and working class socialist elements (respectively) as support for each of those programs. Malthus' work on the principle of population growth as it relates to the availability of food supplies appealed to the religious upper class because it lent credence to the general sentiment among the rich against welfare supportand employment programs for the poverty stricken majority of the populace. For the most part, Darwin followed in the footsteps of T. R. Malthus and held the favour of a large faction within the upper classes (after the initial shock and scandal) because his theory allowed for the existence of God and upheld the idea of a natural order of things. Conversely, it was the nineteenth century working class socialist who would be more likely to quote Jean Baptiste Lamarck in his political tracts. Lamarckian science hypothesized that all living things mutate in order to adapt to their environments, that any and all new traits are passed on to the next generation by way of heredity, and that they all have a tendency toward increasing complexity and perfectibility: "Not for them the powerful and privileged surviving by exploiting and culling the weak, but an inexorable progress for all through harmony and cooperative striving."1 Obviously, this point of view was attractive to radical atheists and socialist artisans because it did the exact opposite of Malthusian doctrine: it posited no set hierarchy among living things. Furthermore, it did not address the issue of divine origin in its thesis. Without a conventional power structure of a divine pedigree, the conservative upper class had no claim to its position in society; there were no grounds left to excuse the deprivation of equal rights from anyone. Lamarckian science is commensurable with Marxist politics.

When we look at figures like Malthus and Lamarck, we can see the way in which science not only affects society, but is also affected by society - in other words, this means that a scientist's social background will tend to have an influence on his research and results. A scientist's source of funding can lean on him, so to speak, in such a way that certain projects are emphasized, or that unfavourable results may be hidden from the light of day. When a scientific theory makes its way to the public, the same thing may happen: when a hypothesis can help further the cause of this faction or that one, it becomes more popular. If that faction represents the most powerful segment of society, the corresponding thesis will prevail as truth. This theme has been identified by Thomas Kuhn in his book The Structure of Scientific Revolutions. In the nineteenth century, we can see Kuhnian theory in action when we observe Malthus and Lamarck, what influenced them, and what they influenced. Let us turn, then, to the examination of Lamarck and Malthus: the men, their projects in the sphere of the sciences, and finally, the give and take between their respective scientific and social issues.

Thomas Robert Malthus was born February 14th, 1766 in Surrey, England. His father, Daniel, was a scholar who was reported (although such rumors are apparently erroneous) to have translated numerous works including some of Goethe's literature and was "a friend of Hume and Rousseau, and one of the latter's literary executors."2 According to William Petersen's biography Malthus, Daniel Malthus provided a formative environment in which a young boy would grow up to be a productive member of the upper class: "he is reported to have been a gentleman of good family and independent means ... a man of considerable culture."3 The young Malthus was educated at home by his father until he was ten years of age, after which he had a private tutor by the name of Richard Graves, a graduate of All Souls' College and an ordained minister.

Later on, Malthus attended a liberal religious school called Warrington Academy. Gilbert Wakefield, a notorious anti-slavery spokesman and advocate of prisoners' rights, was Malthus' tutor there. Wakefield was a graduate of Jesus College, holding a fellowship there, and was also an ordained minister; this was the path upon which Malthus would later follow him. This exposure to progressive thought and liberal religious attitudes is interesting to note, because despite his later popularity among the more conservative element of the upper class, Malthus was actually moderate in his religious persuasions. By the time 1784 rolled around, Malthus had found his way to Jesus College, Cambridge, where he began his studies under the tutelage of William Frend, who was noted for his liberal attitudes toward religion. "At Jesus College," writes Petersen, "Malthus won prizes in Latin and in English declamation. His principle subject was mathematics,"4 and he eventually graduated with honours in that subject. After his graduation, he was given a fellowship at his alma mater (in 1793), and was ordained a minister in the Anglican church. He remained a devout Christian for the rest of his life, despite having his principles of population attacked for being sacrilegious. One might find it striking that although Malthus had a more or less broad-minded educational experience, he later formulated a theory that appeared somewhat cold and callous if not downright cynical and pessimistic. To Malthus' mind, however, his ideas no doubt appeared realistic and nothing more than a matter of fact.

Malthus' principles of population are based on two essential suppositions. The first is that means of sustenance are an absolute necessity for the existence of species. The second is that the tendency toward sexual activity between males and females of the species is also necessary and will continue more or less as it has since time immemorial. For Malthus, these are immutable laws of nature and are eternal conditions for mankind as well as the rest of the animal kingdom. Furthermore, because the food supply increases in an arithmetical manner (i.e. {1, 2, 3, 4 ...}) while the population increases in a exponential one ({2, 4, 6, 8 ...}), there is now and always will be a discrepancy between the population of species and the abundance of food to which that species has access: "man cannot escape a law that applies to the whole of nature. He must eat, and his sexual urge drives him to generate offspring in numbers beyond the subsistence available over the long run."5.

This, according to Malthus, is the one great cause for all strain and strife amongst the human race. The situation is not always entirely static; rather, it has a cyclical nature in which times of economic frailty and boon displace each other periodically, thus affecting the nature of food consumption and reproduction: "during a period of economic depression, many postpone marriage {and} the balance between people and food will improve. But with the consequent return of prosperity, more will begin families and help build up again the pressure of population on subsistence."6 No doubt, there were other variables that could come into play, such as war, disease, and famine, but "the lack of food is the decisive factor."7 This is the beginning of Malthusian theory as it could be (and was) applied to the social climate of England in the nineteenth century. The upper class, which Malthus himself represented, could more or less effectively remove itself from the aforementioned quagmire of supply and demand. The relatively constant prosperity of its number could ensure that there would always be enough for its progeny. It was the proletarian class which presented the largest problem in Malthus' formulation because they represented the majority of the overall population, and they did not posess the wherewithal to ensure the availability of the sustenance they needed to survive. In order to keep the lower class from suffering, the upper class would have to subsidize its sustenance intake. This was the dillema which Malthusian political theory placed before the rich of England. The inverse of the population/food suplly equation was that the helping hand lent to the poor would only allow the situation to continue and could even exacerbate it: "it followed ... that all attempts to preserve life were contrary to the correct application of principle, charity an economic sin {and} altruism 'unscientific'"8. The only way to keep the problem from getting out of hand was to endorse the concept (which is by now a well worn and comfortable cliché) of "survival of the fittest" (a term later coined by the nineteenth century evolutionist Herbert Spencer). Even though this is a phrase mostly linked to evolutionary theory, it was not part of Malthus' programme. Indeed, those of a species who posessed the strongest traits would pass them on to the next generation, but there was no implied development or adaptation like that of Lamarckian or Darwinian science. There was only a consistent and continuous struggle to survive in which population growth always outstripped food supplies. The principle of population thesis drew the ire of everyone from the Anglican Church (presumably because its social implications were decidedly contrary to traditional Christian teachings of charity and compassion) to Karl Marx who no doubt fired off salvos at Matlhusianism (and Malthus himself) for essentially writing off the working class as a burden on the shoulders of the affluent. Despite this, and his favour among the conservative elite, Malthus does not seem to have been of the same opinion as those who took up his stance for their own reasons. Again, he seems to have viewed himself as a realist thinker who looked at the economy of the human condition in an unbiased manner. William Petersen sums up the man's thoughts:

Malthus's {sic} was not a simple mind, whatever its faults and lacks. He was a pious Anglican who saw man not merely as a spiritual being but as a member of Homo sapiens, ultimately no more independent of biological needs than any other species. He was a Whig and a country gentleman, a firm opponent of revolution who worked for fundamental reform, a meliorist intensely suspicious of every facile utopianism. As professor and scholar, he was a determined empiricist deeply embedded in theoretical abstraction9

As it stands, Thomas Robert Malthus and his ideas seem to have been misunderstood by a religious right intent upon supporting their own place in society. Judging from the criticism he received from Karl Marx, for instance, he seems to have been lumped in with those who used the principle of population theiry for their own purposes; however, as the biographer Petersen implies, this should not necessarily have been the case. Given that Malthus was associated in name with the Whig party (which was notorious for ending support for the poor and introducing forced sweathouse labour), his critics were not entirely off the mark in their attacks. Malthus was largely independent of "political parties and schools of thought,"10 and merely use the original essay Essay on the Principle of Population as a starting point in his work as a political economist. As his career progressed, he injected a sociological emphasis into his previously economics-heavy theory. His later work would hypothesized a larger picture in which economic depression would, for instance, create opportunities for employment which employers could afford to play lower wages to workers. When the employment rate went up, both production and worker incomes would increase, thereby helping to kick start enough prosperity to keep everyone acceptable nourished.

The mature Malthus has a more well balanced point of view, yet it is the early Malthus who was quoted by the Oxford educated upper crust in its endeavours to prop up its project. In terms of pure science, Malthus was clearly not a direct contributor. It is his influence upon Charles Darwin that is important. Matlhus actually took his cue from his interest in natural science; he applied his observations of animal life in the wild to his work in political economy. It was Darwin who brought Malthus' ideas back over to the world of natural science and used them to help develop a full fledged theory of evolution. In this way, Thomas Robert Malthus can claim the distinction of having helped bring about one of the most revolutionary paradigm shifts (again, a Kuhnian term which was obviously not in use at the time) in the history of science by way of his influence on Charles Darwin.

Politically speaking, Jean Baptiste Pierre de Monet Lamarck is the yin to Thomas Robert Malthus' yang. In the tumultuous 1800s in Britain and Europe, Lamarck was hailed by working class socialists and radical atheists as having formulated the science which could shake the upper class to its very foundations. Lamarck was born twenty-two years before T.R. Malthus, on August 1st, 1744. His birthplace was Bazentin-le-Petit in northern France. Interestingly, just as Malthus came from a relatively well-to-do family, Lamarck's family was poor, and his father died in the year 1760, when Jean was only sixteen years old. Up until that time, he had been a seminarian, preparing for the priesthood. With the death of his father, Lamarck "chucked the Church and returned home and bought a horse, a sorry nag if all accounts are true."11 He then joined the military, a career in which he had considerable success - especially on the battlefield. During peacetime, he incurred an injury while on garrison duty in Monaco which caused him to resign from military service. This proved to be fortuitous for Lamarck the scientist, because while he was residing in Paris as a medical student, he met Jean Jacques Rousseau, who sparked his interest in science as a general field rather than medicine specifically. Lamarck then embarked on his journey as a natural scientist who developed an evolutionary theory which both shocked and thrilled the minds of people in Britain as well as on the continent. He was also, of course, an important influence on Charles Darwin's theory of evolution, particularly in the later stages of Darwin's work.

Lamarck's theory of evolution was based on two presuppositions, which were based on his Zoological Philosophy published in 1809. The first was that there is in organisms a tendency toward perfection and increased complexity which begins with the simplest species (presumably single-celled animals) and progresses until it arrives at the most developed species (Homo sapiens). The second presupposition is that of adaptive traits: when an organism meets new demands in its environment, physiological changes begin to occur which help that organism meet that demand. The new traits are then passed on by heredity, and thus species evolve. He described his theory of species development in detail according to two laws of nature which he posited as absolute and observable:


In every animal which has not passed the limit of its development, a more frequent and continuous use of any organ gradually strengthens, develops and enlargens that organ and gives it a power proportional to the length of time it has been used; while the permanent disuse of any organ imperceptibly weakens and deteriorates it, and progressively diminishes its functional capacity, until it finally disappears.


All the acquisitions or losses wrought by nature on individuals, through the influence of the environment in which their race has long been placed, and hence through the influence of the predominant use or permanent disuse of any organ; all these are preserved by reproduction to the new individuals which arise, provided that the acquired modifications are common to both sexes, or at least to the individuals which produce the young.12

Lamarck's theory of evolution supposes no design, no divine genesis, although there is a teleological progression at work. It bestows upon any and all species the chance to develop and evolve. It was precisely this that appealed to the radicals of the time. When there is no necessary order in life on the most fundamental, it stands to reason that there is no reason for any group to claim superiority over any other. Lamarckian-influenced political theorists in the socialist ranks often combined his scientific theory with a natural law philosophy, which advocated equal rights and liberty for all human beings. Naturally, this shook the upper class quite profoundly; they balked at the thought of working class riff raff engaging in scientific discourse, let alone riff raff questioning the "natural" order of things. Lamarckian postulation was disturbing to the educated gentleman because it was a threat to his world view. It was remarkably radical in its anti-design stance - one which made its way into the public consciousness through the underground media. It was a scientific theory perfectly suited to a grassroots social movement; in every way it is the polar opposite of Malthusian doctrine. Where the Malthusian saw an unresolvable condition of strength over weakness and demand over supply, the Lamarckian saw progression, a continual movement upward through exertion, education, emancipation and democratic involvement. Simply put, the Malthusian project reflected conservative interests, and the Lamarckian more liberal ones. As pure science, however, the Lamarckian model is not entirely correct. His premise that new traits develop in organisms to meet the needs of their environments was proven to be off the mark by none other than Charles Darwin, who cited Lamarck as a major influence on him. It was not the demands that drew out the traits, argued Darwin; rather, it was the organisms already in posession of the necessary traits that survived. In Darwin, we see a marriage of Lamarckian and Malthusian doctrine. As was just stated, those with the requisite characteristics for survival did so. Those traits were also passed on down from generation to generation, so that (if one were able to survey tihngs on such a vast time scale) definite developments could be observed in species - they would evolve. All the same, Lamarck's theory was accesible to the right people at the right time, and in this way we can se how science can impact social configurations; the same is true for the work of T.R. Malthus. His work was just as comforting to the upper class as Lamarck's was stirring and inspirational to the working class.

Hopefully, this essay has shown the reader an example of the social impact that scientific theories can have (and vice versa - social interests can change scientific programmes!). Many emotional, passionate debates have raged for years in a sphere of thought which has the reputation of being objective and indifferent in the face of human quibblings. Even the fact that Charles Darwin published a second edition of The Origin of Species with a somewhat ambiguous reference to a deity's involvement in evolution shows that science is not always as objective as its adherents would claim. There were and are factors which weigh heavily on the direction our civilization takes: the agendas of social factions, variables concerning equality and freedom, and, of course, the question of faith in God. With the theories of Thomas Robert Malthus and Jean Baptiste Pierre de Monet Lamarck, we see not only two ways of looking at the natural world, but we can also envision to rival social projects using different scientific theories to either help maintain dominance or disrupt it. Science, therefore, is more than just the gathering of facts and the development of objective world views. It is just as much a weapon with which one can displace his rival, and its major figures take on the roles of heroes and villains. This, it seems, is the spirit of science, which lies below the seemingly dispassionate pretext of truth.

1Adrian Desmond, The Politics of Evolution: Morphology, Medicine, and Reform in Radical London, (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1989)4.
2William Petersen, Malthus, (Cambridge: Harvard University, 1979)21.
3Petersen, 21.
4Petersen, 28.
5Petersen, 47.
6Petersen, 47-8.
7Petersen, 55.
8Gavin de Beer, Biology Before The Beagle, in Darwin: A Norton Critical Edition, ed. Philip Appleman (1970; New York: W.W. Norton and Company, 2001)37.
9Petersen, 218.
10Petersen, 38.
11 H. Graham Cannon, Lamarck and Modern Genetics, (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1959)2.
12Jean Baptiste Pierre de Money Lamarck, Zoological Philosophy, in Darwin: A Norton Critical Edition, ed. Philip Appleman (1970; W.W. Norton and Company, 2001)46-7.

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